New York

Joan Brown

Allan Frumkin Gallery

What happens when east (India) meets west (San Francisco artist Joan Brown)? In the case of the new paintings and constructions inspired by Brown's recent travels to India, some top-notch contemporary American figurative art. The enamel paintings, executed in large scale, are fresh, bold, original treatments of Indian myths, monuments, and rituals. It might enhance our appreciation of the work to know “who’s who” regarding the half-man-half-animal figures that often turn up in the company of a robe-bedecked, blue-eyed, light-complexioned woman (very American-looking—she’s probably a self-portrait of the artist), and “what’s what” in terms of the stories being depicted (The Taming of the Tiger and The Night Vigil are two titles). But, still, Brown’s artworks are intended to be seen and felt and not just read.

Both formal and compositional features make references to the pictorial devices of Indian and other traditional cultures. While the bright, allover surface colors of Brown’s paintings and constructions recall the strong decorative tendencies in Indian art, the registerlike reliefs and the stiff frontal and profile poses of the figures bring to mind the conventions of ancient Egyptian art. But the specific and distinctively informative qualities of these images—note the attention to expression and gesture and the dynamic mix of realism and idealism—are intriguingly American. Such features as the blue-eyed woman serve as entry points for the journey of the mind and spirit that Brown invites us to take. Her offer is hard to refuse. As we pass through the constructions (painted pillars and a painted pergola—the passageway, in this exhibition, to the paintings) we enter an atmosphere both contemplative and active which is difficult to leave behind.

Ronny H. Cohen